Budget speeches in Victoria and Ottawa this week didn’t use the word “agriculture” but the province did give a 5% boost to the provincial agriculture ministry.
The provincial budget on April 20 gave a $4.4 million boost to agriculture ministry operations, lifting the ministry’s annual budget to $99.8 million. This is up from $95.4 million last year.
The majority of the funds go to “agriculture resources,” strengthening support for the ministry’s mandate to Grow BC, Feed BC and Buy BC.
The BC Agriculture Council says this translates to $10 million over the next 3 years, supporting the role agriculture plays in the province’s recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s good news,” says BCAC executive director Reg Ens.
However, he also pointed to more than $60 million in funding through other ministries that promises to support agriculture.
The single biggest item is $35 million for quarantining incoming foreign workers prior to their departure to farms across the province. This is equivalent to the amount the province spent on the landmark program last year.
“That’s a huge bump in support for farmers or ranchers – almost a third of the provincial ag budget that comes in that one program,” says Ens.
Also, $7.5 million from Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation is chipping in an additional $7.5 million for agritech innovation grants as well as carrying over $7 million to support the province’s expanding food hub network.
BCAC also has high hopes for $11 million allocated to support FrontCounterBC offices around the province. Ens expects much of this to be spent on staffing, improving service delivery and reducing processing times.
“Hopefully that’s going to improve some of the turn-around on tenure leases and some of licensing that happens,” he says. “Specifically where we’re hoping that helps is with the groundwater licensing issue, that huge backlog that’s there.”
The federal budget, presented a day earlier, held few surprises. Many initiatives were familiar, with key allocations addressing rural Internet connectivity, food production in northern Canada and climate change. Compensation for poultry processors affected by recent free trade agreements was announced, but no funding was allocated for losses sustained under CUSMA.
In addition, $101 million was budgeted for a two-year program to debut next year supporting wineries.
“[This] will support wineries in adapting to ongoing and emerging challenges, in line with Canada’s trade obligations,” the budget states. “The government will continue to be there for Canada’s domestic wine industry and the jobs it supports.”